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The Tucson agenda

Christy fairly needles fellow Pima Supes, Tucson-area governments set to start approving budgets

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings

I've bagged a lot on Republicans and how they have lost their bloody minds politically (and seemingly without much repercussion) because they pretty much have done that, and are getting worse.

For instance: They have taken to calling Democrats groomers, if not outright pedophiles, to gin up the QAnon base. This allegation is five-alarm-fire worrisome because QAnon believes in the mass murder of its political enemies.

They have to call themselves pro-life, but the Right is now demanding babies in migrant detention facilities be starved to death for want of baby formula. If a mom had an abortion, how can you the starve a baby to prove your strength, right, Right?

Then there's the massacre of 10 people this weekend by a teenager who publicly announced his belief in the insane Tucker Carlson-promoted conspiracist fantasy that white voters are being "replaced" by people of other races. The accused shooter looks to be another link in a chain of mass-shooting gunmen driven by the supposed "Great Replacement theory."

And that's just in the last couple of weeks and doesn't include the country's first violent attack on the transfer of power and aiding and abetting a pandemic that's killed 1 million Americans.

Mark Finchem? My God. And there is seriously something wrong with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar. Former Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller saw conspiracies around every corner because Democrats (and lots of Republicans, too) were all out to get her, she dreamed.

So I feel the need to point out when someone is a Republican is playing the role of bird-dogging opposition without reminding me of a Putin-curious Franco-in-training. The statements aren't ad hominem on anyone who thinks differently. My job is to think differently.

Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy has recently been on point and on message without being bat-guano crazy.

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Christy drives me nuts when he links coronavirus to asylum seekers or downplays the idea of public health. But sometimes his queries have a serious point, beyond broad signaling to low-info GOP primary voters.

This week on the board's agenda, he's added a shopping list of items meant to either keep the Democrats honest or on edge. 

He is asking County Administrator Jan Lesher explain the criteria used to give 19 employees $5,200 checks for their service as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. It allows virus skeptics to roll their eyes and complain, perhaps, without advocating the use of horse de-wormer. He can find fault in any subjectivity but this is a legit question.

He wants the county to detail the final payment to former Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Huckelberry's contract called for a sizable check to be cut to him in the form of deferred compensation when he left his position. That's a perfectly fair needling of the board majority and it gives another kick to the story about how supervisors were clueless that Huckelberry retired until the Sentinel told them about it. 

In a completely unfair move to curry favor with liberal columnists such as myself, he wants to make sure the Lesher's memos to the board are all publicly posted, as Huckelberry's (almost) always were. He says the a couple haven't been made available and he wants them all online. 

Dammit. So do I.

And finally, he wants a public demonstration of how the county's new voting centers work. The county is moving from precinct-based voting to voting centers to improve accessibility to the polls. Blood-red Arizona counties have had success with voting centers. Most counties in the state have been using them.

It's simple: Voters don't have to go to a precinct based on their address where all the ballots are alike. We have computers now. Voters can go to a convenient polling place, ask for their ballot and the county election worker will print out a ballot specific to the voter's precinct.

I'm not sure printing a document requires a presentation in 2022 but it's a reasonable request. It also allows Christy to position himself hunting down voter fraud (something about as prevalent as death fraud).

Making life hard on Democrats doesn't require Republicans to act like they need a Kong-sized dose of thorazine. Democrats do plenty of debatable stuff.

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Addendum to the addendum

Also on the addendum to the agenda, Supervisor Adelita Grijalva would like the board to discuss using county-owned land for affordable housing. She is asking for an inventory of such parcels and options available for them.

Additionally, she is requesting $5 million in the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget be dedicated to affordable housing and another $2 million be used used for open space.

Matt Heinz, the Democrat from District 2, wants to rejigger Lesher's proposed raises for county employees. Lesher's plan is to give 5 percent raises to workers making less than $75,000 a year; 3 percent  wage bumps to those making between $75,000 and $150,000 a year and 1 percent to workers with annual salaries above $150,000. Heinz would create five categories and give 8 percent wages increases to those earning less than $52,000 year and giving bigger raises to those earning less than $96,000 year before following Lesher's recommendations on those earning beyond that.

Know who doesn't earn in that top end of $150k-plus? The new public fiduciary, should the board accept Lesher's recommendation and hire Justin Cluck to fill the post.

This is one of those county posts no one pays attention to until they absolutely must. The public fiduciary's job includes — among other things — managing the finances of people whom courts have ruled are incompetent to manage their own money. Needless to say, Cluck would have a ton of power in this position, albeit over a narrow population. Mock his name at your own potential peril.

It is a good thing Cluck has experience both as a fiduciary in Mississippi and as an attorney representing clients in need of social services.

Regular agenda 

Chair Sharon Bronson wants to revisit the county's intergovernmental agreement with the courts to help handle initial appearances. This is the 438th time they have dealt with this issue. The board voted 3-2 on Grijalva's suggestion on May 3 to a one-year extension of the agreement if they courts made clear why defendants were released if Pre-Trial Services recommended against it. Now, she wants to repeal that vote and extend the contract as originally proposed for 10 years.

Criminal justice reform advocates argued against extending the current arrangement because the courts are keeping locked up non-violent offenders while letting more dangerous defendants go. At least that's how the argument went.

The board will, as prescribed by law, hold a public hearing the the county's FY23 $1.9 billion budget. Just two people provided written comments about the budget. There hardly seems to be an impending uproar.

A representative from U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office will present to the board a list of the senator's upcoming priorities. She's make it herself, but that would require public interaction when there are wine-tastings and triathlons that require her immediate attention. Some might want to use it as an opportunity to air some grievances with the (nominally) Democratic senator.

And for dogs and the editors who love them, there's are a couple fireworks displays pending. On May 22, at 8 p.m., there will be a 700-affect display launching at Westin La Paloma. And at 8 p.m. on May 26, a 300-aerial effect show at Sabino High School. 

Moving to Thursday, one week only

Tucson city voters will head to the polls Tuesday to vote for transportation ballot measure, so the City Council's regular meeting will be held on Thursday and not Tuesday.

The Council will review a tentative Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget, hold public hearings related to it and have given themselves the option of approving it.

Under state law, local governments adopt a tentative budget prior to the final budget. It's kind of like an "is everyone cool with this?" before the spendy stuff goes live. The government must then publish the tentative budget for two weeks worth of public review.

A public hearing is scheduled for the budget itself and another on "truth-in-taxation."

The Truth in Taxation hearing concerns the actual amount of property taxes the city is expected to raise when accounting for the tax rates and the underlying property value.

The city's property tax rate is scheduled to increase by .1169 per $100 of assessed value, which amounts to about $35 on a $300,000 home. Most of that comes from a rise in the primary tax rate (for discretionary city council use) is listed this year at .4430 to .5244 per $100. 

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City Manager Mike Ortega has a sizable list of options to discuss from raises, to Sun Tran fares (and if they go back to charging for them after federal coronvirus relief funds go away), climate action, long-term visioning for parks and pools, budgets for the mayor's and council's offices and Tucson Water grants to fight polyflouralakyl substance (PFAS) contamination.

It makes me think what's the rush? If the Council needs to hold a long and involved conversation about the budget, maybe they should give themselves a week to incorporate any changes into the budget. It doesn't take effect until July 1. 

The Council will also hold three executive sessions during an afternoon study session to get legal advice on issues involving ongoing legal wrangling between the city and county, how to address the water shortage with contracts and joint settlement between the cities of Tucson, Phoenix and online travel sites involving unpaid sales taxes.

The Council also has scheduled for its study session the appointment of Tucson city staff to the Regional Transportation Board's technical advisory committee.

The city staff has not provided any additional information on this item, but the meeting is scheduled for Thursday and so there's time to add more information.

What we already know is an expanded role on this staff-level committee was seen a compromise with the other jurisdictions to keep the city involved in regional transportation planning. The council had wanted the RTA process to be governed by weighted voting, so Tucson would have more of a say than, say, Marana, in what projects the RTA pursues.

The Council still wants weighted voting but so far has accepted for now the deal to control more of the staff-level inputs than having say over the final outputs at the end of the process.

Wild in the N-W

Things will get wild in Oro Valley and by that I mean wildlife as opposed to the wild life.

During construction on North Oracle Road from Tangerine Road to the to the Pinal County line, neighbors asked for and won from the town changes to the wildlife barriers along the path of the project.

As the Oro Valley town staff put it: "discontinuities arose" (my new favorite Bureaucrat-speak line for "That was a fuck-up") and critter activity increased in nearby residential neighborhoods. A fix was required and developed with neighborhood buy-in and the town will vote on paying for the new mitigation measure for the price of $625,000. 

Hey, wanna live among the arroyos in the living desert? It costs money.

The Town Council will also vote to tweek the sign code to make use of "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design." For instance, if there is a window within sight of the cash register station, then no sign is allowed between 36 inches and 84 inches from the floor. 

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Yeah, you are with me if you are asking yourself, "Wait, does the ordinance require windows giving cashiers line of sight? If not, how is the problem that when they have a line of sight, they don't have enough of it?"

Whatever. The council already approved the sign code in earlier this month and is going back for a minor fix.

The Marana Town Council will vote on adopting a tentative $159 million budget for fiscal year 2023. A pretty darn high portion (54 percent) of the budget is for capital projects. 

On the other hand Marana is growing and growth requires capital investment. Also, Marana doesn't have a huge need for heavy operations budget. It's not a high-stress, high-service kind of town.

The council will also consider "many, but minor" changes to the town personnel policy.

Define minor? This is an example the town gave related to changes in going out to non-competitive bids: Non-competitive selections shall only be made with the approval of the town manager. It used to end there but now allows for a manager's designee, in consultation with the human resources director.

A change to the town's fee schedule is on the block for debate, as well. 

The town's new fees include a slight bump in hiring police for private events -- rates vary depending on the officer's experience. There's also a new category of "signature event" food-vendor, as opposed to a family cooking hotdogs as Uncle Ned discuss Italian and Jewish space lasers.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.
Correction: Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bronson requested a requested a reconsideration of the agreement with Tucson City Courts involving initial appearances.


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Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy

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